Even though I said a long time ago that I’d never listen again, I did it. You see, I like to keep up with “tech news” from the Silicon Valley. A lot of times, that information takes forever to penetrate into the ivory tower and I want to be ahead of the game. But I think I’ve decided that the silicon valley is just one big frat party that I don’t need to go to. I was perusing the podcast options under Technology and under Education–>Technology at iTunes and most of them, like 98%, are created by men. I find this very frustrating. It’s so clear to me that women are being left behind. I know there are women doing podcasts, but they’re not getting featured in iTunes. And so far, the podcasts I’ve listened to by men in the tech sector have been frustratingly like geek male bonding. In the Ed Tech sector, the male hosts are not rude or anything, but I still find it intriguing that so many of the shows are hosted by men. As Leslie and I discussed in my own podcast about women contributing to wikis, I think the problem lies in some ingrained social structures that give women less time or confidence to contirubute to projects outside their main job responsibilities. And then there’s the bias that prevents them from being featured . . . Why do we keep having to have this discussion? And if someone wants to point me to some good tech podcasts by women , I’m all ears.
Siva Vaidhyanathan is writing The Googlization of Everything in public. There have been similar projects on both an article and book scale and I think it’s worth paying a lot of attention to, especially those of us who teach writing. These may indeed do a lot to demystify writing for our students. It’s just interesting to see, too, people interacting with the ideas in a book. You don’t get to see that very often. I’m also interested in Google, so I’m looking forward to contributing something or just watching.
The Geeky family are not morning people. We do not leap out of bed when the alarm goes off ready to greet the day. I’ve had visions of being that person, but it never happens. Sadly, the world is stacked against us. School and work begin at ungodly early hours. Geeky Boy has an especially difficult time rousing himself in the morning. I’ve written about this before. I find it extraordinarily frustrating. Like in the previous post, I’m torn between “let him suffer the consequences” and “you suck as a parent.” Talk about a rock and a hard place. I said to him this morning that if he didn’t have school, I wouldn’t have to get up. I could sleep at least another hour if I didn’t have to check in with him all the time to make sure he hasn’t gone back to sleep. I said it’s not really fair that I have to get up just to make sure he makes it out the door. I don’t mind being the backup, the insurance to double-check that he has everything he needs for school, but I don’t like being in a situation where if I’m not awake, he’d just sleep until noon. In other words, I’d like him to take some responsibility for his actions.
For all of you with small children who wake you bright and early every morning, I’m telling you, this is the hard part. I know it seems like the lack of sleep and the terrible twos and all of that is hard, and it is, but the psychology of holding on/letting go is even harder. There’s a surprisingly thin line between support and neglect. I’m honestly at a loss of what to do. I’ve tried a lot of things: lecturing, buying better alarm clocks, taking away privileges, letting him suffer the consequences. Nothing seems to work. I certainly sympathize with him. I nearly failed a class in college because it met at 8 a.m. No amount of feeling obligated to attend could get me out of bed. Gradually, I began to feel more responsible and go to bed earlier. And then, of course, I had kids.
The issue of waking up on time is just one small area of responsibility in a whole series of things we’d like Geeky Boy to take more responsibility for. In some areas, he’s great. In others, not so much. And I’m not sure we’re the best role models because much of what we take responsibility for is invisible: bills, papers, relationships, etc. We suck at the more visible stuff: cleaning, getting up early, etc. I wonder if we worked harder at the visible stuff if that would make a difference. It might. It might not. And maybe it won’t matter. Maybe the invisible stuff is what’s important anyway. In the meantime, Geeky Boy still has to make it to school on time.
I thought that this might be the week that things slowed down, but no such luck. Monday and Tuesday weren’t too bad in terms of meetings, but because I had no meetings, I actually sat down and got some real work done. I should list everything I did, but I don’t want to scare anyone. This won’t phase the faculty out there, but I think I’ve probably worked around 10 hours/day for the last 3 weeks.
One of the fun things I did this week, though, was to host Steve Greenlaw, Martha Burtis, and Jean-Claude Bradley for a panel of presentations on social software. They spoke to a packed house and the room was still abuzz long after they left. We brought Martha in virtually, and I think that was my first successful virtual presentation. Not that I’ve had failures in the past; we just haven’t done virtual presentations much. We used Skype for the sound and Elluminate for the presentation and it worked out great. Everyone was impressed with the sound quality and the picture quality. We could even see Martha on the screen. I often say that every time I do a presentation that involves a lot of technology, something goes slightly wrong. In this case, the important stuff was fine, but as I tried to save my recording of all the presentations, the computer crashed (possibly from the weight of all the technology we were asking it to handle) and then the file was gone. Maybe next time, I’ll get it right.
And now it’s Friday already. I have a busy day ahead, but for sure, I’m having another lazy weekend. I need it!
- Exercise: I’m still trying to fit this in. These past two weeks were so busy that I only managed a walk twice. I need to combat the post-work exhaustion. My goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day. I do 3-5k during a work day, so I want to add on the remainder somewhere. I discovered that it’s only a 1/2 mile walk to the grocery store. When I asked the kids and my husband how far they thought it was, they said 2-3 miles. Funny how traffic and stop lights distort our view of distance. I’m planning to walk there more often when I don’t have much to get. Ideally, I’d get a bike with a basket of some kind. I’m drawn to the idea of adding in exercise as part of what I normally do rather than as an add-on.
- After back-to-back soccer games on Saturday morning, the Geeky family basically did nothing all weekend. We all had moments of thinking we might do something ambitious, but settled in to doing nothing quite easily. I think we all needed the downtime.
- The heat actually kicked on this weekend. Fall has really and truly arrived. We had our windows open since we turned the air conditioning off and overnight, it got quite cold which made the house cold enough for the heat to come on (which means it got quite cold; we have the heat turned way down). I’m not a big fan of cold, cold weather, but I like the fall chill. I’m looking forward to baking apple pies and pumpkin bread.
- The week ahead looks much calmer than the last two weeks, which have been jam packed with back to school activities and requests (as many of my previous posts can attest). I’m hoping to be able to get back to work on some projects that got put on the back burner as we ramped up for the beginning of the school year. I’m really looking forward to that!
I love watching blog conversations take their twists and turns and seeing how they interweave together. Aspazia at MMF writes about pursuing a course of study that you love, a post that’s a riff off of Dean Dad’s riff of Bitch, Ph.D. and Oso’s posts about what you’re supposed to do (or not) with a Ph.D. And now, here I am riffing again. I have almost always pursued what I love. My father always told me this, so I saw it as my main goal to find what I loved. Unfortunately, I didn’t always discover that right off the bat or I went astray into areas because I wanted “a good job.” I enjoyed every minute of going astray though. I took all kinds of crazy classes–from Economics to International Studies to Calculus to Photography. I learned something from all of them. If I had simply pursued my English major with narrow-minded focus, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun nor learned as much. Sure, there are trade-offs to that. When I got to grad school, there were lots of things I hadn’t read or done because I didn’t take every. single. literature. class. So, I got caught up on my own–much more fun to read Tom Jones for pleasure than for a class sometimes.
I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn’t realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me “a good job.” Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.
I often tell students these stories, explaining how I changed my major 8 times, thinking at one point that I was going to be an international business lawyer (seriously). I tell them this to let them know that they don’t have to know right now exactly what they’re going to be when they grow up and pursue some particular course right. this. second. in order to achieve that goal. There are always second and third and fourth chances. Most people change careers several times in their lives. There are plenty of opportunities for smart people of any age to retool. I retooled at 34. I may retool again at 50. Who knows.
This year, I did some freshman advising. I hope I don’t get nailed for being a bit of an iconoclast in my advice. My first three advisees had their courses all laid out. They didn’t know what they were going to major in, so they took a couple of required courses and a couple of exploratory courses. Good for them, I said, and sent them on their way. The next three all had some difficulties. They thought they knew what they wanted to do, not just in college but beyond. They all had parents telling them what to do. Note to self: do not intervene in Geeky Boy and Geeky Girl’s choice of classes. One student wanted to take Japanese and not French as her mother had suggested. I asked why she wanted to take Japanese and had she taken French. She said she loved anime and Japanese culture and wanted to learn more about it. She’d never taken French. I asked how far away her parents were and told her to sign up for Japanese.
I think Aspazia’s right, undergrad students should explore. Although there are second chances, you never get another chance quite like college to just learn. After college (unless you go to grad school), learning tends to happen on the edges of making a living (unless you make a living doing something where there’s lots of opportunity to learn, a path I highly recommend). So here’s to doing what you love even if it’s not what you’re supposed to do.
In these last few hectic days, I’ve been thinking about perspective. When confronted with ideas or requests or statements, I often try to determine what the person’s perspective is and how and why they might be thinking the way they are. I try my best to keep a broad perspective myself and consider other people’s points of view and often before I speak, I will explain where I’m coming from. I might say, for example, that I’m speaking on behalf of faculty. Here are some broad categories of differing perspectives that I have dealt with in the last few days:
One vs. Many: As Spock said when he died: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of one. This is a delicate balance I must always strike when I support faculty and students. As a general rule, I lean towards supporting many people. I can do things once and it benefits lots of people. For example, I run workshops and create documentation to help people use the tools they need to use for teaching. I also try to develop tools or processes that address needs that came up for one or two people in the past, but would benefit everyone. This time of year, though, I’m often confronted with requests that will benefit only one person. And I have to seriously weigh them sometimes. Honestly, sometimes it’s like the addage of “If I let one of you go to the bathroom, you’ll all be asking to go.” Unfortunately, at this time of year, it’s impossible to develop something as a result of a specific request that would benefit many people. I just don’t have the time to think through everything much less develop it. Often, when I respond to a specific request with, “This is going to have to wait a couple of weeks” or “You’re going to have to find another way to do this for now,” I’m aware that the person on the receiving end has the perspective that their need outweighs all others. I’ve been in their shoes. I’m sympathetic. But sometimes I want to explain exactly how their request would prevent me from supporting the other 150 people I support. Should I spend hours trying to restore something someone could have (should have) saved themselves instead of helping 20 other people? Likewise, should I spend hours doing something for someone that they could do themselves? Should I spend hours working on the basics with someone who didn’t make a workshop? These are some of the dilemmas I face.
Long term vs. short term. I’ve run into plenty of tenured faculty and long time staff members who take the long view. They make decisions based on trying to think about how that decision will play out in 5 to 10 years. Right now, no one’s thinking about the long view. They’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off. And that’s okay once in a while as long you step back and try to assess the situation and work towards making the next time better. Here’s a concrete example. The first fall semester I was working, I had received over 250 emails (I’m not even counting phone calls) requesting help with Blackboard. As soon as the dust cleared, I tried to determine why I had received so many calls for help and what I could do to prevent that from happening again. After talking to lots of people, I determined that the way we were creating accounts several steps before those accounts ended up in Blackboard was creating problems for a large group of people. These people were unable to even log in to Blackboard and the majority of the emails related to this problem. So I fixed the source of the problem. I could have fixed all of these manually at the time and I could have just been prepared to do the same next time around, but that would be taking a short view. I’ve seen this happen a lot in IT. We bandaid something and don’t bother to return to the problem and try to really fix it.
Difference in role. As I’ve said here before, I often find myself explaining how faculty work to IT people and vice versa. I find myself doing this at this time of year as well. I really do try to see things from the student perspective, from the faculty perspective and from various staff perspectives. Far too often, people don’t try to see things from another person’s perspective.
Anyway, I find it interesting to listen to and watch people and to think about what I’m thinking in response and try to determine where the conflict is and come up with some kind of solution or way of responding that makes sense and will help the other person’s understanding. I’m curious if you all see these kinds of things at your institutions and how you handle them or think they should be handled.
Soccer began this weekend. Last year, Geeky Girl essentially dropped out because they placed her in the wrong age group (too young) and she didn’t find it fun anymore. This year she’s in the right age group. Yes, she’s the smallest one in that picture to the left. But she is crazy fast and determined. She almost scored 3 times. I was pretty darn proud of her. When a lot of the other girls were slowing down and dragging, Geeky Girl was still zipping down the field. It was a really hot day. Very hard to keep your stamina on a day like that. Most importantly, I think she had fun, and it’s good to see her running around outside.
I’m trying to reinvigorate my exercise program, which for now involves mostly walking. I like walking. I don’t need any special equipment (though I do own a pedometer) and I can mix it up by taking different paths. On the weekends, I’ve decided to have my workout involve geocaching. So, we went on our first geocaching trip on Sunday. We’ve been to this spot before, an estate just a few blocks over from our house. We *still* didn’t find the treasure. So, we’re going to move on to another location next weekend. We find our locations through this site. I think the kids were disappointed we didn’t find the cache, but we went for ice cream and water ice afterwards to make up for it.
In addition to getting outdoors more, I did some more work to become environmentally friendly. I purchased some recycling containers and some reusable grocery bags. Our recycling has been pretty hit or miss. I hate our system. Not only do we have to separate our recyclables, but we also have to put them out on separate days. It makes it really hard to keep up with. Also, they pick up clear glass but not colored glass. Colored glass has to be taken to the recycling center. We have way more dark/colored glass than clear. I found this site pretty useful in finding products and information about steps to becoming environmentally conscious.
So how was your weekend?
First, a Weird Al video that’s near and dear to my heart:
And now, a Potter puppet show:
Last year, I asked the question, “What is Education?” My students and I spent the entire semester discussing this question. I think we had more questions by the end than answers. And the same may happen with the current question.
This last week, I have attended convocation and a farewell reception for a departing staff member where people made speeches that all essentially tried to ask and answer the question of what we were all doing here? What is this place we find ourselves in and how do we work together toward some kind of future? The word community was thrown around. People talked about the ability to connect beyond our physical locale via the Internet. The statements have not been empty, but have not completely answered the questions. So I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a part of a college. I’m not sure I have a solid answer, but I have some ideas.
As a student at my small liberal arts college, I was largely oblivious to the work of the staff. I noticed most painfully the largely African-American dining staff, but I couldn’t have told you who worked in the Alumni Office or the Development Office. I barely noticed the work of the faculty except as the people who lead class and graded my work. I did not attend very many events where faculty and students mingled together. I didn’t pay much attention to them outside of class or the relatively few office hours I attended, didn’t think of them as colleagues ever. I didn’t think of the campus as much of a cohesive unit. There was us, the students, and there was everyone else. I suspect I was typical of most of my peers. We were focused on making the best of our four years on campus and not much else. If faculty and staff contributed to that, we didn’t really make note of it.
When I went off to graduate school at a very, very big school, I felt even less cohesion. The university was divided by school and department. Our department was huge, so it was further divided by area of specialty. Half the time when I was in the student lounge, I didn’t know a soul. My next graduate school, about half the size of the first and more than 10 times the size the my undergrad, felt more cohesive. In part, I felt this way because I took on a new role. I didn’t really consider myself “just a student” and I had a new role as a faculty spouse. I knew about my husband’s department and its relationship to the school as a whole. He served on campus-wide committees that gave me insight into the larger workings of the school. I also became involved in the graduate student association for my department, eventually becoming its president. The faculty in my department were often involved in things outside of the department and I remember many conversations about broader campus issues. It just seemed that people talked about the university and its mission a great deal.
Partly, I think this shift in attitude from undergrad to my last graduate school is due to my own maturity and my own willingness to become involved in the broader concerns of the department and/or school. But I also think there were differences in the schools themselves. In theory, my undergrad should have given me the most sense of community, but it was a divided community in many ways. We had fraternities and sororities that divided us. We were also divided by living situations and majors. Likewise, the huge university I went to was divided by similar things. My last institution, I think, was particularly concerned about defining itself, so I think there were lots of conversations, both formal and informal about the mission of the institution. I have no idea what the undergraduate student’s perspective was, so maybe I’m wrong about that.
My current institution is similar in size to my undergrad. It should feel like a tight-knit community, but it doesn’t always. It has its own divisions, different from what I experienced as a student. More than any place I’ve ever been, there seem to be strong divisions between the faculty, staff and students. In part that may be the usual animosity that most campuses tend to feel toward IT departments, so my perspective may be skewed for that reason, but the divisions are definitely there. Those divisions get momentarily erased at times, at events such as the two I attended this week. And when they do, that’s when what it means to be college starts coming to light.
According to the Wikipedia, college originally meant “a group of persons living together under a common set of rules” and of course, that idea in current use usually pertains to the faculty. Without the faculty, there is no college. But without the students, there is no college either, and without the staff, maybe there still can be something like a college, but it wouldn’t function very well. I think central to the idea of a college is learning. And I think that it’s important to think of that learning as not just happening to the students and not just happening in the classroom. At a college, one can take advantage of resources and people that facilitate learning. For example, there are lectures, films, and performances to attend. There are smart people to talk to. Hopefully, there are diverse people to talk to. Students may learn from living with people different from themselves, from working in dining halls and from going on trips to nearby cities. In an ideal college, I think, learning is encouraged across all groups and at all times. When we start to think of learning as happening only in the classroom or in connection to classwork or in relation to artifacts that are considered “academic,” we limit what we are as a college. We become simply a place where one can get a degree or where one has a job.
And that brings me back to my own experiences. As an undergrad, I didn’t fully appreciate what an opportunity I had. College for me then was the process of getting a degree. It has only been in the last 10 or 15 years that I’ve realized that a lot of my education took place outside the classroom but often in connection to the more abstract lessons I was learning in the classroom. At the large grad school, I had a similar attitude and I think the place itself encouraged that attitude. We all felt “processed” not educated. And that, I think was the main difference between the two grad schools. The second grad school took education as meaning something more than granting degrees.
I’m still thinking about how an institution can cultivate an environment that focuses on the idea that learning permeates everything it does. Obviously, there are ways that individuals can contribute to that environment through their personal actions and through the opportunities they open up for others or for themselves. Certainly, it seems, that a focus on the bottom line or pure reputation building or other shallow pursuits will not create this environment, but how does an institution cohere its diverse groups around the idea of learning more broadly considered? I’ll leave that for my readers to help me sort out.